'Pix's growth has upset the balance in the English movie genre' : Pix business head Sunder Aaron

The English movie channel space has seen a shake-up. The power centre has been upset with the growth of Pix and the onslaught of new entrant Movies Now. From being a two-horse race, now there are four – Star Movies, HBO, Movies Now and Pix.

Having acquired the library of its parent Sony Pictures Entertainment, Pix is making a bigger push in a market that is getting more competitive.

In an interview with‘s Ashwin Pinto, Pix business head Sunder Aaron talks about the rise of the channel, the challenges the genre faces and the opportunities to grow the market.


What have been the focus areas of Pix this year?

To capture moré and more good content, given the competitive nature of the market; to ensure that the channel is distributed on the right networks and in the right position; and to create an environment for viewer stickiness.

How far has Pix gained from the output deal with parent Sony Pictures Entertainment?

The perception about Pix among viewers and advertisers has changed as we have moved from a library to a contemporary movie channel. It is easier to change attitudes and perceptions of younger audiences as they do not have an inherent commitment to another channel like HBO or Star Movies.

Among our target audience, we have beaten HBO since January. The aim is to become No. 1 eventually. We will continue to focus on getting the right content and building distribution.

Could you talk about how Pix has evolved since launching five years back?

The appearance has really evolved since we launched the channel with library content. The channel went through a massive packaging overhaul in May-end. Our promos look a lot more younger. We are playing bugs; we also give trivia information for some of our key titles.

What are the changes you have brought on the programming front?

We were the first ones to create a single ad break movie slot. We also realised that the afternoons and late nights are the non primetime hours where the viewership is growing.

Younger audiences come in during the 12:30 pm-4 pm time band. Our programming is geared towards addressing that audience who are mainly college going.

In the last few weeks, two new things have happened. One is ‘Awesome Saturdays‘ where we have lined up the evening with popular movies. And on Sundays we focus on the 12 pm-4 pm time slot with an initiative called ‘Sunday Breakout‘. This is how we are pushing the weekends.

We are doing the Dynamite Diwali festival, which takes place on weeknights at 11 pm. In November, we will have an even bigger stunt. It will probably be called ‘Big Guns of Hollywood’.

‘The perception about Pix among viewers and advertisers has changed as we moved from a library to a contemporary movie channel. The output deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment has helped in this‘

What about thematic blocks?

We had started this when we launched five years back, but have moved away from this as we evolved. When your channel does not have a strong identity or presence, you need to build points which can draw in viewers. However, we continue to do festivals.

When Pix launched, it skewed towards 25+ audiences. Now where do they come from?

We focus on 15-34 SEC A,B, across six metros. But from a programming perspective, we are inclusive in nature. Older viewers also watch us. We continue with properties like ‘Hand Picked‘which consist of movies that have a strong drama quotient.

Is this genre seeing more of appointment viewing than say two years back?

My suspicion is that it is not there. When HBO had groundbreaking series like ‘Sex And The City‘, this was there. Also, when Star Movies had ‘Avatar’ people probably made a point to come in, but they have shown it 30 or 40 times. So you don’t have to make an appointment to view it. I don’t think that it is possible to build it any longer.

People watch movies in different ways - DVDs, online, on their ipad. So why would you have to make an appointment at 9 pm to sit in front of a channel to watch a film? I don’t think that channels compete on this basis anymore. Competition is on the basis of content, perception and profile.

Is channel loyalty falling?

Yes, but this is the case across television and is not something specific to the English movie genre. There is more programme than channel loyalty. There is a residual brand presence in the consumers mind at the same time.

Has the market dynamics for the genre changed dramatically?

HBO and Star Movies were the leaders. Pix has grown, which has obviously upset the balance. Then Movies Now came in and upset the balance even more.

Movies Now has made an impact by focussing on popular films. Does that mean that premieres have lost a bit of their value?

I think that Movies Now has been clever and there have been elements to their success. One is that they selected films that are widely known and recognizable. Another big factor is that they got the distribution right; they invested a lot in positioning themselves properly. The third factor is that you cannot underestimate the value of the Times support.

But I wouldn‘t say that it diminishes the value of premieres. It does show that Indian audiences still have an appetite for movies that are familiar to them. But when Pix showed ‘The Karate Kid‘, it was a premiere and propelled us to the No. 1 spot.

Is there going to be more focus on original shows like ‘Gateway’?

Yes! But there is a challenge as it is costly. We are talking to sponsors about bringing back ‘Gateway’ in a different form that will be even more exciting. Currently, we do specials from time to time. ‘Chicks on Flicks’ does things on premieres. We will do new series in a couple of months.

How is the deal with the NBA working out?

It is working out well. The big challenge, though, is that the NBA is in a lockout; they have not started the season. The players’ union has not come to an agreement with the owners to start the season. The season will get delayed.
Are you looking at more sports properties to build reach?

We are careful. The NBA is enough; if we put more, it will look like a sports channel.

How are you pushing distribution?

We are attempting to go beyond the six metros. DTH has shown how we are consumed in other markets as well. We are looking forward to cable digitisation.

I don‘t want to rely so much on ad revenue. But we don‘t get our due in terms of subscription income. Carriage fees rise every year while subscription revenue is not keeping pace with it.

Between the different mediums, how is your spend split?

It is defined by the film and not by the city or medium. Flexibility is needed in planning. For instance, if we use radio this month, then next month we may or may not use it at all.

I would say that online is a very effective medium. It is highly flexible.

Could you give me a couple of examples of innovative campaigns that have been done this year?

We did the ‘Hollywood is Here‘ campaign where we used clustered outdoor. In Chowpatty (in Mumbai), we took six to seven hoardings together. In Delhi, we used a cluster of 10 mobile vans standing in one line. We showcased our positioning and the new titles that were coming up.

For ‘The Social Network‘, we could not use Facebook as a medium. So we used radio and hoardings. People knew Mark Zuckerberg but not the film’s star Jesse Eisenberg. The thought for the campaign was the sexiest man alive; this created an intrigue.

How are you growing consumer contact initiatives like the Pix Movie Club?

We have touched 10,000 members. We are in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore and we want to take it further down next year. We haven‘t decided on whether or not to rope in advertisers for this.
Are you looking at more marketing initiatives?

We are looking at doing something online. We are working on the details. For me, online marketing is about an idea and not just taking out a bunch of banners across sites.

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